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Washington Wednesday: No Labels, no easy task


WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: No Labels, no easy task

Forty-nine percent of voters identify as independents, giving third parties hope that a unity ticket could win in 2024

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Associated Press/Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta (file)

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 6th of September, 2023.

You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re glad to have you along today. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up on The World and Everything in It: 3rd party politics.

Every election cycle, there are those who condemn the duopoly of the Republican and Democratic parties and their hold on power in Washington. These folks propose third ways through independent candidates or platforms like the Constitution or Green parties.

EICHER: This time around, there’s a new party laying the groundwork for a potential run, depending on who the Republicans and Democrats end up nominating next Spring.

POST REPORTER: No labels right now is in the process of going state by state across the country to get on ballots…

NBC REPORTER: The Town Hall was hosted by No Labels, a group that says it’s a bipartisan organization…

HANNITY: Is the No Labels option appealing to you?

REICHARD: So what is No Labels, and do they really have a shot at taking the White House away from Democrats and Republicans?

It’s Washington Wednesday, and our Washington Bureau reporter Carolina Lumetta has the story.

CAROLINA LUMETTA, REPORTER: In the summer of 1996, Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican Bob Dole were basically tied in the polls following the Republican Convention. That August, Texas billionaire Ross Perot threw his hat into the ring as the candidate for the Reform Party.


PEROT: Can we count on the two political parties to solve these problems?


PEROT: They are the problem, right?

Perot ran as an independent four years earlier and ended up with 19% of the popular vote but not a single elector.

By October 1996, it was clear Perot didn’t have the support to pull out a win and was likely to cannibalize Bob Dole’s campaign to unseat Bill Clinton. But Perot refused to quit.

PEROT: Am I in this for the long haul? Yes. Do I intend to campaign to the bitter end? Yes.

And the end was bitter. Perot ended up with just over 8% of the popular vote, no electoral votes, and the knowledge that Clinton won re-election. Margins for third party candidates have only gone downhill since. Jo Jorgensen received just over 1% in 2020.

Fears that third party candidates will derail Republican and Democratic campaigns continue to haunt efforts to provide an alternative. But the organization No Labels insists that 2024 could be different.

BENJAMIN CHAVIS: We think that the extremes on the far far left extremes on the far far right are dysfunctional.

That’s Benjamin Chavis Jr., national co-chair of No Labels. He joined the organization earlier this year, but it’s not a new venture in Washington. For the past 13 years, No Labels has quietly been building support on Capitol Hill through the creation of groups like the House Problem Solvers Caucus. Though not yet an official political party, No Labels has achieved recognition in 10 states and aims to add 18 more by the end of the year.

CHAVIS: A group like No Labels then offers an opportunity for diverse perspectives to work together, find out, and I've I've had so many dialogues with Republicans since I've been in No Labels that I've never had before. Because before No Labels, I was only talking to Democrats. Now. I'm talking to Democrats, Republicans, independents, and guess what? We find out we have much more in common than we do in difference.

On top of bipartisan concerns about four more years with Joe Biden as president, a record 49 percent of Americans—mostly young adults—say they identify as independent according to Gallup polling earlier this year. Add in Donald Trump’s unpopularity outside his base of supporters, and the ingredients for a third party pitch are all on the table.

But other centrists believe No Labels is unlikely to break history’s pattern.

DEGRUYTER: Ross Perot, who No Labels likes to point to as their sort of preferred model of the third party candidates, did what we see frequently from third party candidates: they peak early, and they underperform when it comes to the ballot box.

Kate deGruyter is a communications director for Third Way, a center-left organization. She’s reviewed a memo on No Labels’ website that estimates it can win 286 electoral votes next year if three things happen: One, voters on the fence who said they would be willing to vote for a unity ticket follow through; two, No Labels pulls equal shares of moderates from both parties; and three, non-voters go back to the ballot box. DeGruyter finds that goal unrealistic.

DEGRUYTER: Nobody here is is anxious that they're going to do that. We think that it's a fantasy. But they could easily siphon off a percent, and there are at least seven states that were decided by less than 3%. So they have to only marginally outperform Ross Perot, in order to tilt the election and potentially deprive Joe Biden of the votes that he would need to win again in 2024.

That’s why Democrats in states like Arizona, where independents now account for a third of voters, have tried to keep No Labels from getting ballot access. And Former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt launched a new super PAC to specifically block No Labels from running a shadow campaign for Trump. But No Labels co-chair Chavis has promised they would bow out if the data does not support a path to victory.

CHAVIS: No Labels, not be a spoiler for former President Donald Trump.

There is another way No Labels could affect the 2024 election. John Aldrich, a political science professor at Duke University, began tracking third party presidential campaigns in 1980. He says even a failed independent campaign can pull partisan candidates back to the center

ALDRICH: I think that Bill Clinton, who won the 1992 election, went from running a pretty mainstream but liberal candidacy to becoming a much more centrist center-left candidate, a president and governed in a way that went after the people who had defected from his party and voted for Ross Perot. So he kind of moved back to the center, and that’s a really big impact for a third party candidate even though Ross Perot got no benefit himself out of it.

If No Labels decides to jump into the 2024 race, it not only needs ballot access. It will also need a candidate. Ideally, someone with plenty of money and name recognition…and the guts to step away from his or her party. And there is someone who might fit the bill: West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. Here he is at a No Labels forum in New Hampshire in July.

MANCHIN: The only way you can threaten them is have people out there that says listen, they can't win either side can't win without the independent. Without that independent, that center left center right, an independent Republican and independent Democrat. If they have another option, then they're in trouble. Both parties are in trouble. So they're going to have to say,Okay, we'd better look at this again. I don’t think unless we stay over here that they’re gonna vote for us, so maybe we can move.”

Joe Manchin has been a co-chair of No Labels for 12 years. As a senator, he has defended his Democratic seat in a heavily Republican state twice… a strong track record for the centrist. He’s also frequently bucked his own party to vote against some of Biden’s bills in the U.S. Senate. He has said he is fed up with extreme views from both the main parties.

Manchin has not yet confirmed if he will attend the No Labels convention in Dallas in April. But as he told attendees at that forum, the overall goal is to pull politicians to the middle… while leaving the presidency on the table.

MANCHIN: I’ve never been in any race I’ve ever spoiled. I’ve been in races to win. And if I get in a race, I’m going to win. So with that being said.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Carolina Lumetta.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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